Enter the lobby of Halekulani. There, in the center, is a sturdy set of Italian marble blocks stacked to withstand the wind that sweeps through the open-air space. It is easy to miss this sculpture. Though beautifully crafted, it is often overshadowed by crimson anthuriums, kelly green leaves, umber branches, and orange hanging heliconias that burst forth from it. For decades, this flower base has steadily supported dramatic weekly arrangements, Sogetsu design concepts inspired by the tradition of ikebana.
Ikebana, which roughly translates to “living flowers,” is the ancient Japanese art of floral arrangement. Its roots can be traced to flowers left on Buddhist altars after the religion arrived in Japan in the sixth century. In the intervening years, the art form developed into hundreds of schools with codified rules that evolved as different styles rose and fell. Traditional ikebana can be a rigid practice. Today, several older schools continue to adhere to a rule of representing heaven, human, and earth in each arrangement.
The Sogetsu school of ikebana is known for breaking the rules. Sofu Teshigahara founded Sogetsu in 1927 to allow practitioners originality and creativity. An accomplished artist in his own right, Teshigahara saw ikebana as a creative art that could be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, by anyone. Teshigahara believed that any material could be used to construct an arrangement, and that ikebana shouldn’t be constrained by rules or location. Sogetsu defies convention by encouraging practitioners to embrace spontaneity and to make every arrangement an artistic endeavor.
“The important thing is lines and color and harmony and movement,” says Masako “Tanga” Kamemoto, the nonagenarian who brought Sogetsu design to Halekulani in 1984. Kamemoto is a slight woman with short brown hair styled in waves. She was born and raised in Japan, where she studied ikebana, earning her first Sogetsu teaching diploma at 20 years old, at which time she received the name “Tanga” from master Sofu Teshigahara. By the time she came to Halekulani, she had earned the highest teaching rank and was a celebrated practitioner.
Although she retired in 2004, much of the hotel’s staff still recognize her, warmly greeting her as “Mrs. Kamemoto” when she visits. She and her husband, Kiyoshi, were staples of the lobby for two decades. The couple would visit every Friday so that she could create new arrangements, while Kiyoshi helped with the heavier work. Kiyoshi, who passed away in 2008, also designed the timeless lobby sculpture that housed his wife’s ephemeral creations.
Before retiring, Tanga Kamemoto volunteered her time to impart some sense of the Sogetsu art of flower arrangement to the staff of the Halekulani Flower Shop. Irene Bacani, the manager of the Flower Shop, learned the trade from Kamemoto. Like her teacher and many Sogetsu practitioners before her, Bacani sees floral arranging as art. “Every time I make an arrangement, it comes from the heart,” Bacani says.
To form these living floral sculptures, Kamemoto and Bacani agree that it is imperative to use quality materials. Flowers are sourced from places including Hawai‘i Island, Holland, and South America. Materials salvaged onsite are used as well, such as branches from the beloved fallen kiawe tree that now grows on its side by House Without a Key. Each element is carefully examined and placed to maximize artistry and flow. To practice Sogetsu, as Kamemoto puts it, “You have to know how to use a flower.”
Sogetsu is an expression of the practitioner that requires focus and concentration. Bacani has taken to making her arrangements between 6 and 8 a.m. to avoid distractions. She also finds that Sogetsu is rarely far from her thoughts, as she often picks up twigs or other greenery throughout the day to feature in future arrangements. “We are using these natural materials to create beauty with our feelings,” Bacani says. By discovering and playing off the natural qualities and quirks of each plant—its color, durability, or texture, for instance—Bacani feels she learns from each new creation.
Back in the lobby of Halekulani, the flowers seem to move in stillness. Note the precision of each sweeping line. Take in the sculpture Kiyoshi Kamemoto lovingly made to support his wife’s art. The details of this scene change weekly, but the soul of the tableaux is constant.
Ikebana arrangement in Halekulani Hotel.
The art of arranging living flowers.
Irene Bacani, who manages the Flower Shop at Halekulani, learned the art of ikebana from Tanga Kamemoto.
For the ikebana displays, flowers are sourced from Hawaiʻi to Holland. Materials are also salvaged from the hotel’s fallen kiawe tree.